Dear Readers, you know that winter has arrived in East Finchley by the sound of people scraping their windscreens. The thin layer of ice sometimes reveals the secrets of what’s happened overnight – several cars had tiny footprints all over them, presumably where a cat or fox has run over the bonnets and roofs. But why, I wonder? I know that cats sometimes sit on the bonnet because the engine is warm, but maybe these nocturnal animals were just having fun.
As we walked towards Coldfall Wood I saw a fox belt out of the wood, across Creighton Avenue, up the road for a few hundred metres, then back across the road and into someone’s garden. He was a big, hefty fox, and looked as if he could run for miles. I’m already hearing the yips of foxes talking to one another at night, probably preparing for the mating season which kicks off in the next few weeks. That’s the sound of winter for me, echoing across the empty streets on an iron-cold night.
I love the way that the first frosts paint every leaf and seedhead.
The mugwort is a most unassuming plant, but the frost turns it to a mass of silver rockets going off in all directions.
In the woods themselves, some of the overhanging trees along the path by the allotments have been cut down. It’s good that the wood has been left to provide habitat, although sometimes they don’t stay where they’re put. The muddiest bit of the path from the wood to the fields has had an improvised extension built with some pieces of timber. Today everything is delightfully crunchy underfoot rather than claggy and sodden.
There’s something about the quality of sound on these clear, crisp, still days. A song thrush is singing in the wood, and as we go out onto the fields the roar of the North Circular seems especially loud. There are a pair of Boston Terriers galloping about, and a fine array of dog coats to admire. I sometimes wonder if their little paws get cold but they seem unfazed. You can see exactly what path everyone has taken, melted into the grass.
And the sun is coming up, and painting the trees with copper.
This Christmas will be my first without Mum or Dad, the first time that I’m not frantically planning a trip to Dorset or organising food and commodes and medical supplies. What a year it’s been, for all of us I suspect. For me personally, I am feeling a kind of settling, as if murky waters are clearing to something simpler. Maybe it’s equanimity, that sense of accepting the things that I can’t change, and being deeply grateful for what I already have. The day will come when a walk in the woods with someone I love will seem like an extraordinary, blessed thing to remember. Maybe one reason that I write is so that I can recognise how lucky I am now, to be able to crunch across the grass after the first frost, to hear the distant roar of traffic and to smell the hint of smoke from an allotment fire. And maybe another is so that I can try to share it with you, wherever you are in the world. This blog has been a little snippet of sanity for me over the past few years, and never more so than in 2020. Thank you for reading, and for being part of it.